From the on-stage thrills of stardom to the backstage grit of putting a Broadway show, the current UK tour of Kander and Ebb’s Swansong, Curtains packed a punch as a murderous musical whodunnit on its opening night at Cardiff’s New Theatre.
Set in Boston’s Colonial Theatre during 1959, Jessica Cranshaw, star of Broadway-bound musical Robbin Hood, has been murdered on stage on the productions opening night! This is a case for Detective Frank Cioffi, who is not only a huge musical theatre fan but also possesses a nose for crime. Frank places all the performers under suspicion, but also insists that the cast and creatives carry on producing their show.
A show within a show, Curtains not only delivers as a murder mystery whodunnit, but also as a highly entertaining musical comedy. Encompassing on-stage musical theatre performance with back-stage drama from the stage door to the fly area, the action has a seamless quality even when scenes from “the play within” Robbin Hood take place.
Kander and Ebb’s music score is catchy, enjoyable and energetically orchestrated from the direction of Alex Beetschen. Never intrusive, the music entwines itself within the shows dialogue, giving a classic musical feel throughout.
Strongly choreographed musical numbers like the humorous lament, The Man Is Dead, which see the ensemble snooping and spying on potential suspects through walking wardrobes are a marvel to watch.
Jason Manford slips into the role of Detective Frank Cioffi with an air of heroism akin to Hollywood legend, Cary Grant. A mild manner fused with a passion for all things musical theatre makes Cioffi’s character fun to watch. Manford is very at home in the part and has immense fun bringing in elements of comedy to counterbalance the ongoing drama.
Samuel Holmes is also great fun as British theatre director, Christopher Belling. Playing the role with a required air of campness, Holmes delivers some superb one-liners, including a moment when he almost takes credit for a murder. “It was me! I’ll take the credit for anything that’s good!”
Rebecca Lock is sensational as brassy producer, Carmen Bernstein. Despite Carmen’s no-nonsense attitude particularly around her daughter, Bambi, I found myself really warming to her character. Undoubtedly a contributory factor were Miss Lock’s magical vocal performances on songs Show People and It’s A Business, which I feel really carry the charisma of what Musical Theatre is about in performance and presentation.
Ore Oduba as Aaron Fox and Carley Stenson as Georgia Hendricks are the shows estranged creative musical writers. While Fox delivers a particularly moving rendition of, I Miss the Music, one really had to marvel at the professionalism and confidence that Miss Stenson projects as she leads the ensemble in the Wild West orientated numbers In the Same Boat and Thataway! Exciting and a pure joy to watch, had I the option to “rewind and enjoy again” I certainly would!
Leah West shines as Niki, as she takes Manford’s Cioffi through his dance steps in the memorable starry sequence of A Tough Act to Follow.
Meanwhile, Emma Caffrey’s portrayal of future star, Bambi, steals much in the way of audience affection through some wonderfully choreographed dance scenes as the show progresses, particularly opposite Adam Burkett’s Bobby.
Featuring a fine musical score by Kander and Ebb, topped with awesome stage performances from a strong ensemble cast, Curtains is undoubtedly a feelgood thriller. It really would be a crime to miss it!
Curtains continues its run at Cardiff’s New theatre until October 19.